It’s exciting to see the words “written and directed by Brad Bird” onscreen at the end of “Incredibles 2.” The last time we saw those words on a film was on the 2005 short “Jack-Jack Attack,” and before that, “The Incredibles” in 2004.
His credit on 2007’s “Ratatouille” was similar (“screenplay and direction by Brad Bird”), but that was a film he picked up from another writer and director who was fired from the project. And while he directed the flawed but highly underrated 2015 live action film “Tomorrowland,” he co-wrote that script with Damon Lindelof.
Maybe I’m getting caught up in end credits minutia. And anyway, animated films are always highly collaborative. But there’s something special about the movies that were conceived in Bird’s mind and executed in his script and under his direction. His skills as a thoughtful writer and brilliant visual storyteller and stylist are unmatched in American animation.
Those skills are on full display in “Incredibles 2,” which is not only a challenger for Pixar’s best sequel (a category with an already high bar that includes at least one Best Picture Oscar nominee), but for one of Pixar’s best films.
It would be a stretch to think any sequel could be as good as the first “Incredibles” film from 2004. But fortunately for “Incredibles 2,” this time Elastigirl is the star — and stretching is kind of her thing.
After nearly 14 years, Bird has come up with a new story that reaches the intricate intelligence and fun of the first film.
That story picks up right where the last one ended off: a family of superheroes has just come together to defeat the villain Syndrome’s giant robot monster, and they’ve come closer together as a family in the process, but their problems aren’t over.
Being a superhero is still illegal, and Bob and Helen Parr (Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl) still have pretty fundamental differences on how to deal with that legal reality, and how to talk to their kids about it. I love their relationship so much: Their love is an amalgamation of passion, affection, frustration and even competition with each other. It’s real. It’s conflicted. It’s not perfect.
Things pick up when two siblings — a salesperson (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and a scientist (voiced by Catherine Keener) — come to Bob, Helen and their friend Lucius (aka Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) with a plan to sway public opinion and make supers legal again.
The plan involves Elastigirl leaving home on a super mission, and whereas the first film focused on Mr. Incredible’s perspective, the new film’s shift toward Elastigirl’s point of view proves not only to be a perfect way to give more vocal work to the brilliant Holly Hunter, but also a great test for Bob and Helen, struggling to stay afloat in their relationship.
The villain this time around is a master of hypnosis known as the Screenslaver, fueled to do evil by a righteous anger with society (like all the best villains are). The righteous anger gives the film plenty of intellectual meat to chew on, and the hypnosis gives the film an amazing visual style. There is a fight sequence between the Screenslaver and Elastigirl that takes place in a room with hypnotic, animated, black-and-white walls that is one of the most exciting bits of beautiful artistry ever to come out of Pixar.
I cannot stress enough how smart this movie is, for all its action, humor and heart. The family dynamics are not at all flat, cardboard stereotypes, so when Bob is left at home with the kids, or when the teenage Violet has trouble with a crush at school, it never feels superficial or cheap. These characters are layered and feel completely real.
And the music is excellent. Michael Giacchino’s first feature film was “The Incredibles,” and in the many film scores he has done since, he has become a deeper, more complex composer. The soundtrack for “Incredibles 2” has a 1960s jazz influence and makes great use of a big orchestra.
By the way, not only is “Incredibles 2” a total delight, but it is preceded by what just might be Pixar’s best short, “Bao.” I didn’t know anything about it before it started, which is a good way to experience its delightful (and profound) twists. The story focuses on Chinese-Canadian characters and is another dialogue-free wonder of visual storytelling to come out of the studio.
I can feel my heart beating faster just thinking about the emotional experience it was for me to watch “Bao” and “Incredibles 2.” I don’t know what I did to deserve to live at a time and place where these two triumphs of American animation are available together at movie theaters just a few miles away from my house, but it is not my place to question such rewards, only to be incredibly grateful for them.
Director: Brad Bird
Vocal Cast: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Jonathan Banks
Running time: 1 hour, 58 min
Rating: PG for action sequences and some brief mild language